A few weeks ago, FIRE’s offices nearly doubled in size as we welcomed eight undergraduate and two legal interns joining us in Philadelphia for 10 weeks to learn how to protect their fundamental liberties on campus. This year’s intern class is made up of exceptional young minds eager to fight censorship and recruit their fellow classmates to stand up for their rights. I can’t thank FIRE’s friends and donors enough for making this experience possible for them.
Today, I want to share with you a startling story that one of our interns, Rachel Cheeseman, recently told me, so you can hear first-hand what college students are facing at the places that are supposed to be educating our future leaders-but that are instead too often indoctrinating them. It is because of stories like these that FIRE’s Internship Program is so vital, both for its impact on our individual interns and for its reverberating effects on the campuses to which they return. Here is Rachel’s story:
My first year at DePauw University, I had a great experience living in the dorms, largely thanks to my resident assistant (RA) Patrick. He was so kind and welcoming that I was inspired to apply for a position as an RA for the following year. I loved working with my residents and felt confident that I was playing a genuinely positive role in their DePauw experience. However, throughout the year the joy I found in my position was overshadowed by something more sinister. I grew disheartened and eventually disgusted by the Office of Campus Living and Community Development. Its paternalistic views along with its blatant disregard for free thought, individuality, and freedom of speech and conscience led me to seek out FIRE.
During the week-long series of RA training events, my fellow RAs and I were lectured repeatedly about white privilege, racism, sexism, and every other "ism." My peers who questioned the information were silenced immediately or heckled for their refusal to accept the dogmatic views of our superiors. We were told that "human" was not a suitable identity, but that instead we were first "black," "white," or "Asian"; "male" or "female"; and, perhaps most alarming of all, "heterosexual" or "queer." We were forced to act like bigots and spout off stereotypes while being told that that was what we were really thinking deep down. I was appalled, and I hadn’t even been forced to drag my residents through the same thing … yet.
When my residents arrived, I was required to escort them through a mandatory interactive live performance, "Tunnel of Oppression." As we walked through the halls of the house in which the performance was held, we were taught different lessons by inference through the "realistic" demonstrations in each room, including "religious parents hate their gay children," "Muslims will find no friends on a predominantly white campus," "white people believe all black women are ‘welfare mamas,’" "all overweight women have eating disorders," "gays and lesbians should fear being ‘outed’ by their partners if they leave an abusive relationship," and so on. I looked at my residents and saw some students realizing the stereotypes they would have to fight, and others of various minority groups feeling hopeless and ashamed of their place on the campus they were about to call home for four of the most formative years of their lives.
I was enraged. Not only did this brainwashing program go against DePauw’s own promise of freedom of conscience, it promoted an environment where there is a "right" and a "wrong" way of thinking. But more than just telling us what to think, DePauw told us what we should believe deep down. Instead of inspiring students by fostering free and open debate, DePauw was-and still is-indoctrinating its students.
For my senior year, I was offered the highest placement and most generous compensation one can receive as an RA. My conscience will not let me accept it. Instead, I will spend next year fighting these abuses of the university’s in loco parentis power, writing stories on the subject as a managing editor for The DePauw, our campus newspaper, and applying what I learn here at FIRE to mobilize my campus community members to take back their rights.
Although I have long fought campus thought-reform programs as FIRE’s president, I was deeply saddened when I heard Rachel’s story. I can’t imagine if this were my child falling victim to such blatant indoctrination and being forced to subject others to it-all through a program funded by the hard-earned money I had spent on tuition! I was truly appalled by Rachel’s story, and I know you will be too. That is why I needed to share it with you. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we were able to invite Rachel to our offices in order to equip her with the tools she will need to become a FIRE ambassador when she returns to campus. With a donation to our Internship Program today, you will give more students like Rachel the opportunity to learn about their fundamental rights and the ways to protect them, and you will ensure that fewer students fall victim to the campus thought police.
Yours in liberty,